“Don’t go over there,” my friend advised. “It gets weird and religious.”
How I should have introduced myself to every club representative with whom I had an awkward conversation: “I’m Susannah. I don’t sing, I don’t dance, and I don’t act. I can, however, be cynical about whatever it is you’re excited about, especially if it’s an acronym.”
How I actually did: “What? Oh… I’m Susannah. Uh, yeah, this seems really um… cool. Totally cool. Nice to meet you!”
Oh, no. I lost my roommate. She headed straight for the Hispanic table and now I’m stuck listening to the girl from the Women’s Center outline her plan for creating “pods” of women—wait what? Pods? Are we colonizing a new planet? Cool, Princeton! I could get behind that. Can Shirley Tilghman come? Wait, this is so awesome, god I love it here, I’m already being offered intergalactic space travel… oh, what are you saying? We’d meet once a week and eat and talk about what it’s like to be women? Oh, so you mean it’d be just like every meal I’ve ever eaten with my girlfriends in my life. Well, this was fun. Where’s my roommate? Oh no, oh no, there’s that girl from down the hall, what is her name, she’s smiling at me, she clearly knows who I am, it’s like Marissa or Theresa or Mary or something, don’t make eye contact, don’t be inviting, quick get out of here, roommate or no roommate. I can do this by myself, I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman. Hey, I wonder if there are any centers for women on campus. I’d really like to get involved with that. It’s infuriating how marginalized women’s rights have become as modern sexism morphs into subtleties and subversions of sexual anxiety. There’s gotta be an organization that deals with gender equality somewhere around here—oh. Right.
“Save Water Shower Together”—Free Hat
How the Activities Fair Should Be Done
Somehow, acquire a game face. Put it on. Do not smile at any one in an a capella group, a dancing troupe, or theatrical society. Do not put your name on any email lists that aren’t explicitly related to your future major/eventual career/fifty year plan. Watch out for jugglers. Walk up to the first of the two booths you’re actually interested in and ask them pertinent questions that will get you the information you need to be a productive member of their club, Princeton, and thereby, the world. Give them your email. Walk to the second booth. Ask pertinent questions. Give them your email. Repeat as many times as necessary. Leave Dillon Gym, continuing to avoid eye contact. Later that week, get emails. Join club. Become president. Graduate at the top of your class. Get into grad school. Get a job. Become incredibly successful. Marry the love of your life. Die happy.
How the Activities Fair is Actually Done
Enter Dillon Gym as timidly as possible. Smile the friendliest of friendly smiles. If you’re conservative, make sure you somehow get trapped at the Princeton College Democrats table; if you’re Jewish, get flagged down by a Christian club; if you can’t sing, start a conversation with a dude from the Nassoons. Allow these conversations to go on for what seems like an hour in awkward-conversations-with-strangers time. Stay at table for five more minutes. Finally decide you can’t take it anymore. Giggle stupidly and mumble your excuses. Wander around the gym looking for the one club you’re actually interested in. Find it. Be too intimidated to introduce yourself to anyone. Put your name on the email list. Leave. Later that week, get tons of emails. Feel super popular. Go to every call-out meeting and open house mentioned. Start to have schoolwork. Stop going to all but the one or two that you actually enjoy. Make friends. Feel connected. Find a passion or at least a pastime. Get into grad school. Get a job. Become incredibly successful. Marry the love of your life. Die happy.
“Are you a Catholic?”
“No,” my friend says. “I’m Jewish.”
“Can’t win ‘em all!” the representative says, and walks away.
Can you still have a cookie if you’re not gay? Is the chocolate chippy goodness worth two minutes of skin crawling politeness and polite murmuring? Do you realize how much eye contact you’re going to have to make? How you’re not going to be able to scan the room to see where your roommate is or anyone else you’ve ever had a brief conversation with? Do you think the conversation will fool passers-by into thinking you’re a passionate, involved human being and not just a lost and confused frosh who has been ditched by her roommate at the Activities Fair? Are you aware of the amount of effort you’ll have to exert to make sure your smile stays natural and doesn’t warp into a grimace revealing how uncomfortable you are? Do you have any questions? Yes, actually: where is my roommate, what time is lunch, and can I still have a cookie if I’m not gay?
“Are you interested in joining [x religious club]?”
“No,” my friend says, “I’m Jewish.”
“We forgive you,” the representative says and walks away.
The first and second times people at the Activities Fair asked me if I could dance, I forgave them their obvious inability to make sound judgments about people, smiled kindly, and assured them that I could not. The third and fourth times I started to wonder if I was being mocked. When people started asking me if I could sing, I considered the very likely possibility that I had a special kind of charisma and poise that only representatives from a capella groups and dance troupes at Princeton Activities Fairs could sense. But by the tenth time I admitted to, unfortunately, lacking the capacity to sing or dance, I couldn’t remember anything I was good at. I started hating myself for stopping my preschool dance class and for squandering my year of vocal music in sixth grade. I didn’t know how to make these smiling upperclassmen in colorful shirts love me. I wanted to scream “NO! I don’t sing! I don’t dance! I couldn’t solve a Rubik’s cube in a hundred years, let alone in under a minute! I can’t even touch my toes! My acceptance to Princeton was probably a mistake!” Instead, I went to talk to the Mormons. They looked bored.
Clubs I Wish Had Been at the Activities Fair
The Anti-Awkwardness Alliance
The Association for the Advancement of Grade Inflation
Center for Hipster Life
Eggplant Parmesan Lovers
Pastels Are Way More Flattering: Coalition to Change Princeton’s Colors
National Society of Collegiate Nappers
OA Halfway House: A Reintegration Initiative for Evac’ed Frosh
Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All
Shriek Khan (no experience required)
So You Think You Can Rap?
The Society for the Perpetuation of Frosh Week
We Miss Our Pets Support Group
Do you care about global health? Do you care about helping disabled children? Do you support gender equality? Are you interested in fostering diversity on campus? Do you care about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels? Are you interested in fighting malnutrition? Do you think that children should have easier access to early education? Are you interested in proactive solutions to the debt crisis? Do you think women in developing countries should be offered access to healthcare? Do you want to help find a cure for cancer? Do you like asking questions that no decent human being could say “no” to? Do you realize your college tuition could support several African villages and you spent an entire Sunday drinking and dancing in pearls you wore “ironically”? Have you ever spent a second of your useless life thinking about people other than yourself? Are you ashamed to be alive yet? Great. Join our club.